2007-02-10 / News

Recollections of President Ford on Mackinac

By Carleton Varney

Stewart Woodfill (center, with glasses), who owned Grand Hotel, is visited at his Mackinac Island home by President Gerald Ford in July 1975. President Ford died at the age of 93 at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, Tuesday, December 26. He was buried in his hometown of Grand Rapids. Pictured are (from left) President Ford, Betty Ford, Mr. Woodfill, Governor William Milliken, Helen Milliken, and (in back) William Milliken Jr. (Grand Hotel photograph by George Rose) Stewart Woodfill (center, with glasses), who owned Grand Hotel, is visited at his Mackinac Island home by President Gerald Ford in July 1975. President Ford died at the age of 93 at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, Tuesday, December 26. He was buried in his hometown of Grand Rapids. Pictured are (from left) President Ford, Betty Ford, Mr. Woodfill, Governor William Milliken, Helen Milliken, and (in back) William Milliken Jr. (Grand Hotel photograph by George Rose) Editor's Note: Grand Hotel decorator Carleton Varney, president of Dorothy Draper and Company in New York, published the following recollections of President Gerald Ford in his column in the Palm Beach Daily News January 5. He has offered it to the Town Crier. President Ford visited Mackinac Island in 1975 as the guest of Governor William Milliken. Pres. Ford passed away December 26, 2006.

Happy New Year to everyone and may the New Year be filled with many new colors - happy colors - in your life. I started the year 2007 thinking that the media, and the world, had become one filled with negativity and "down, down, down." Did anyone really want to view the ugliness and senseless brutality of an execution by hanging of a dictator in Iraq? Certainly not I - and my friends and acquaintances certainly did not find the viewing an "up" or a happy way to say Happy New Year. And along with the death of our 38th president, Gerald R. Ford, I was certainly not going to find television viewing or newspaper reading uplifting or welcoming. I was wrong!

I came away from watching the Gerald Ford funeral services at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. uplifting, warm, and celebratory. The service, and the manner in which it was conducted, made me very proud to be an American and, as the Michigan Governor, Jennifer Granholm, stated in her eulogy, Michigan was proud to have Gerald Ford as their own son.

I was proud that my life and the lives of the Gerald Fords had touched - even for a brief occasion. Gerald Ford served in office from 1973 to 1977, a time when I, and my office, were redecorating the Pantlind Hotel (now the Amway Grand Plaza) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was introduced to the Fords at the opening celebration of the hotel by my clients and friends, Mr. and Mrs. Richard DeVos, of the Amway Corporation, owners of the hotel. I chatted with Mrs. Ford for several minutes about colors, the feelings we had created in the public spaces, in the restaurants, and in the guest accommodations. My initial reaction to Betty Ford was extremely positive. Her warmth and charm came forward naturally and positively, and I was thrilled to share the moment of decorating chatter. President Ford was definitely a man of character and Dr. Henry Kissinger's eulogy called it perfectly: Gerald Ford was a man of sincerity, serenity, and integrity.

Some years later, when I was designing five suites at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan - long after the Fords had left the White House - I had the opportunity to talk with her about her decorating and design style, as one of the First Lady Suites at the Grand was to be named in her honor. Yes, a Betty Ford Suite. Why not name our suites for the presidential wives, was the thinking of the Grand's owners, Amelia and Dan Musser. The other four First Ladies being honored were Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, and Rosalynn Carter.

I personally communicated with all the First Ladies inquiring about color, furniture styles, lighting, art, flooring materials, and accessories. Each was most accommodating. For color, Nancy's suite went red, red, red. Would you have expected otherwise? Lady Bird's designs were built around the color yellow, her favorite, and I still believe the song Yellow Rose of Texas will always be her tune in my mind. For Rosalynn Carter, whom I know, having been her design consultant in the White House, the suite went peach - for Georgia. Barbara Bush's color selection was pale blue with white paint accents, and Betty Ford's suite was colored in a pale soft mint/celadon green, her choice of background color.

I thought that each First Lady's background color preference was interesting. No two were alike and that is what really makes my role as a decorator different and interesting. There is no right color or wrong color when decorating, but there is a choice.

At the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, guests enjoying the suite will see on the wall the letter Mrs. Ford sent (her reply) indicating her decorating and design choices. This letter from Betty Ford, expressing gratitude for the hotel's naming a suite after her is a badge of honor for the hotel. After all, how often does a hotel name its suite after a First Lady - and not the President?

Gerald Ford was in office 3- 1/2 years and did so much to move the world forward. His ability to move forward majority rule in Africa, ending Colonialism and Colonial rule, was a major, major accomplishment. To finalize the agony over Indo-China was another major contribution to the world order. His sincerity, serenity, and integrity will always be remembered by Americans, and Betty Ford's personal contribution to the advancement of mental health concerns and to the advancement of ways to treat alcohol and drug abuse have been astounding and of great help to patients all over the world.

To Betty and Gerald Ford, I am delighted that our paths in life crossed - if for only a small fraction of time. That fraction and this past New Year Day's viewing you and your family and friends participating in the celebration of a life so honorably spent, made my New Year 2007 one filled with fond memories. If I were there in Heaven with you, Gerald Ford, I would create for you an environment filled with every comfort and joy you wished. But, in my heart, I know you have that space already created - the way God is rewarding you for a life well spent.

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